As we end the year 2021 of the common era, I am probably more pessimistic and worried about the future than I have ever been in my entire life.
This pessimism isn't personal. My personal life is one that most people can only dream about. My daughter earned a STEM degree from a top liberal arts college in three years, has found a decent job, and has moved in with her pretty decent boyfriend of several years. My son has a year and a half left before he graduates from an Ivy League college with a STEM degree, had a wonderful internship in his major last summer and has another even better one lined up for this summer, has a study abroad lined up, and has a truly wonderful girlfriend. My wife and I have a modest sized but well appointed home that we love that is just right for us, in a good neighborhood, in a good city and state. We are reasonably financially secure. My self-employment as an attorney is intellectually challenging and I have a decent work-life balance. I have an employee who is happy with her job. Our family's health is decent and when we have issues we have a "gold" class health care plan to deal with it. We are on good terms with out extended family and I know what is going on in the lives of a large share of the friends I've had in life. Life isn't perfect, and at some point I may pivot to make it better, either in a big way, or in many little ways, but I can't complain.
But the prospects that I see for my nation and my world are far more bleak.
The United States was once the world model of a well functioning democracy. Now, we have been downgraded in international comparisons to a semi-democracy, falling from a 10 on a ten point scale to a 5. We survived a coup attempt led by an incumbent President who had lost the election on January 6. A large share of the Republican party no longer cares about what voters want, and are happy to cheat and use violence to obtain their political ends. Gerrymandering and legislation to suppress voting by the poor and minorities has become the order of the day. Compromise and a sense of the common good are gone. Foundational beliefs about the importance of the democratic process have evaporated. Civility and respect for the office by members of one of our two political parties has vanished. Republicans no longer care about corruption and political malfeasance.
Maybe a third of our voters and close to half of our elected officials have completely disconnected from facts and reality. They have gone to war with science, with experts, with reality based media, and with higher education.
We are at high risk of a future coup or civil war as measured by the metrics that the CIA uses to predict these events in other countries.
It will probably get worse before it gets better on this front.
The political balance in Congress is as tight as it can get. While Democrats control the Presidency, the U.S. House (by a thin margin), and the U.S. Senate (solely by virtue of a Vice-President who can resolve 50-50 tie votes), a couple of conservative Democrats in the Democratic caucus have prevented the Democrats from enacting the agenda that 96% of their elected officials share.
Democrats have come up two or three Senators short of being able to end the filibuster, of being able to pass fair election laws, of being able to undue immense tax cuts for the rich passed in the Trump administration, of being able to grant the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico statehood, of being able to expand the U.S. Supreme Court to redress its overwhelming and unrepresentative conservative majority, and so much more.
It is likely that Republicans will make gains in the midterm elections, even though they don't have the support of a majority of voters in the nation. Unlike President Biden and the Democrats who hold the swing votes in the U.S. Senate, they have no scruples that prevent them from sacrificing the needs of the nation for their party's own political gains.
Our nation can't even reach a political consensus on basics, like the scientifically proven steps necessary to prevent the harm arising from COVID-19. The third of the population or so that is disconnected from reality is refusing to get highly effective vaccinations, and is disdaining other measures that can be used to control the spread of the virus like wearing masks in public, social distancing, and avoiding large public gatherings when possible. The lion's share of people who are hospitalized or die from COVID-19 are now members of this anti-vax, reality denying subculture. About 75-80% of those dying of COVID or being hospitalized now are unvaccinated Republicans.
A 6-3 hyper-conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, secured through dirty legislative tricks, is bit by bit rolling back well established legal rights. Roe v. Wade will probably be overruled this summer after being settled law for 48 years. The impact of this could be dramatic and pervasive, affecting almost half the country in a matter of days or weeks.
Global climate change is no longer just a threat on the horizon. We are already experiencing droughts, wildfires, and unprecedented levels of extreme weather events. It is too late to stop it, and progress at even slowing it down have been haphazard at best. This week's Marshall Fire is just the latest in a string of consequences for our inaction.
There are concrete ways that greater gun control and more accountability for law enforcement, could greatly reduce an orgy of senseless gun deaths, like the mass killing by a far right racist misogynist in Denver who clearly telegraphed his intentions for years in advance. But so far, the hyper-conservative Supreme Court's commitment to individual Second Amendment rights to bear arms, and Republican politicians have thwarted most efforts to do something about it.
Republicans are intent on keeping their poor people poor, sick, insecure, and uneducated, because it is people in that situation who vote for them, and because they feel that they can do so in a way that benefits rich donors. Instead they have encouraged and fostered conditions that have led to a surge in deaths of despair from narcotic overdoses and suicide so numerous that life expectancy is actually falling in white rural America.
Our failure to rethink and reform the basis of our economy has led homelessness and deaths among the homeless, most often from opioid overdoses, to surge.
The political right in America has become so cynical and disaffected that it is content to be evil. It has no conscience or empathy. It continues to want to drown the government in a bathtub, even though they are the disproportionate beneficiaries of its largesses. Their "pro-business" policies drive Red States into poverty and economic decline, while the "anti-business" policies of Blue States leave Democratic parts of the country with twice the per capita GDP as Republican leaning areas. The advance policies that consistently lead to more, entirely predictable and preventable deaths and misery and despair, even as their own constituents would benefit the most, materially, from Democratic Party economic policies.
Republicans have abandoned conservative, principled ideology for populism and hate. President Trump flamed the fires, but mostly, he simply gave a deplorable third of Americans permission to show what has long been their true colors.
The problems aren't confined to the United States either. Authoritarians are on the rise in global politics from Russia to Turkey to Syria to China to Eastern Europe. The most powerful military forces in the world that are not aligned with the U.S., in Russia, in China, in Iran, and in North Korea are taking provocative actions and receiving little meaningful pushback. The Ukraine, Belarus, Taiwan and the East China Sea are in their cross-hairs. Brutal wars persist in Ethiopia and Yemen and the African Sahel and the Congo. Afghanistan has collapsed now that the U.S. has left it after two decades and fallen into the hands of the Taliban. Right wing extremists have gained power in Myanmar and Turkey, in Hungary and in Poland. Secessionist movements have grown hot in Scotland within the United Kingdom (following its departure from the European Union) and in Spain. Hong Kong's Western style political economy is in the process of being crushed before our eyes. There have been few positive developments in the other direction.
Not all hope is lost.
Federal prosecutors and judges have held hundreds of people involved in the January 6, 2021 coup attempt responsible criminally. Court has severely sanctioned lawyers who unethically abused the legal process in an effort to undermine the November 2020 Presidential election results. Congressional investigations have flushed out the malfeasance that was at work in this effort to thwart election results. Defamation litigation has punished some of the bad actors contributing to the disinformation that has harmed our political system. The U.S. House has sanctioned some of the bad actors within its own ranks seriously.
Other prosecutors and lawmakers are finally making serious efforts to hold bad cops and violent right wing extremists responsible in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Some progress has been made at the state level in Blue States as national level gridlock has continued.
Almost everyone in the U.S. who has been willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 has been vaccinated with impressive results in terms of prevented cases of "long COVID", prevented hospitalizations, and prevented deaths.
Big automobile makers and utility companies worldwide, and new entrants to these markets, spurred on by government and public pressure, and facilitated by long anticipated technological breakthroughs, are bringing us ever closer to transitioning to electric cars and a greener power grid.
The response to COVID-19 dented mass incarceration in the U.S. Marijuana legalization and a better approach to the war on drugs have gained almost irreversible and bipartisan momentum. Outright attempts to roll back gains for gay rights haven't gained much traction yet. The Biden administration has used the regulatory state to expand access to abortion drugs just as surgical abortion measures are on the bring of being shut down entirely or greatly restricted in most of the South and much of the Midwest.
Medical science continues to come up with new ways to deal with serious health threats. More and more Americans are becoming non-religious at the expense of increasingly politicized white Christian denominations. Backward views are heavily concentrated in older Americans who are dying off bit by bit, while more forward thinking younger people come of age. Migration out of the rust belt may be making a lot of blue states lose population and become more conservative, but these migrants are also bringing new liberal voices to red states, moderating them politically.
The decline in the coal industry has left one of the stalwart pillars of conservatism in American politics in its death throes. The transition to the electric car and greener power grids could deal a similar blow to the global oil and gas industry.
Foreign politics hasn't yet exploded into international wars yet. Islamic terrorism and movements for theocratic government in the Islamic world outside the African Sahel have mostly faded. The march of economic development has lifted many hundreds of millions of people out of dire poverty, especially in China, The demographic transition that has accompanied economic development worldwide has largely defused the "population bomb" that used to be a great worry. The Internet has helped connect people around the globe to each other on a person to person and business to consumer level that has made foreigners less alien and bound the world more tightly together. Not all democracies are as deeply flawed and uniquely vulnerable as the United States.
Still, in the end analysis, I remain more pessimistic for our nation and our world's future than I have ever been.